Why environmental activists should watch Fox News

When environmental activists, government officials and business leaders travel to Glasgow for COP26, many articles, videos and books will be circulating extolling the virtues of green. One piece of content that probably won’t turn around a lot is Blown away: the people against wind power, a documentary currently airing on Fox News in the United States. But the Glasgow entrants would do well to watch it.

The film stars Tucker Carlson, the awesome-looking TV host with a dyspeptic streak who underwent a conversion from prep with a bow tie to right-wing barker in the Trump era. In the 26-minute film, he travels the country to “expose the hidden costs of the green energy program”. What he seems most angry about is the “death and destruction caused by these monstrosities” known as wind turbines.

Never mind that most of the Glasgow attendees consider wind energy such a wonderful thing that pictures of turbines decorate the COP26 program. Carlson believes wind farms threaten the livelihoods of fishermen (because turbines are built offshore), harm virgin forests, and jeopardize the safety of ordinary American workers, as they can sometimes fail and cause an outage. current.

“It’s about enriching[ing] the most powerful people in the country at the expense of the most vulnerable – it is exploitation of the weak by the powerful, ”says Carlson. “It is foreign companies that will make a fortune. Specifically, he hates the fact that Spanish, Norwegian and Danish companies are operating the turbines and that financiers like Warren Buffett and banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are involved.

If you are in Glasgow you are undoubtedly rolling your eyes or perhaps correctly replicating that, say, a coal mine does more damage than any Scandinavian turbine. But even if you don’t agree with Carlson’s attacks, it would be a mistake to ignore him for at least three reasons.

First, and most evidently, we live in a time when political tribes are losing the ability to empathize with others and it is dangerously easy for anyone, especially activists, to slip into group thought. . Not only has the lockdown kept us trapped with our own social groups for a long time, but as we rushed online we have tended to ramp up our tribal affiliations. Technology, after all, makes it easier to personalize our identities and confirm our biases.

As a result, I suspect that few of the Glasgow attendees even know that Carlson is so angry with the wind turbines, or are likely to see snippets of his rants in their social media feeds. Even though the show he’s running, Tucker Carlson tonight, is the highest rated on US cable television, with 3.42 million night viewers.

Second, even if you don’t like Carlson’s overall position, there are grain of truth in some of his words. Take its charge on elitism.

Video: The decisive challenges of the COP26 climate summit

As Soufflé According to reports, a hallmark of wind farms is that they tend to be located in remote rural areas or places subject to what wind engineers call the “Starbucks rules”. As one explains to the camera, “Never try to locate a wind project within 30 miles of a Starbucks. . . because the demographic who are willing to pay a higher price for Starbucks coffee have the education and the means to organize themselves to resist wind projects. »Nimby-ism – Not In My Back Yard – predominates.

This was recently exposed in the Hamptons, the wealthy enclave near New York City, when a wind farm company offered to run a cable through a seaside town. The local outcry was such that the project was abandoned. This is far from the only inequitable problem that haunts green politics. If gasoline prices rise because of a carbon tax, it is the poor voters – not the elites – who suffer relatively more. If the coal mines are closed, it will not be the urban voters who will lose their jobs.

Environmental activists ignore it at their peril; without government action to offset these effects, we will see more episodes like the yellow vests demonstrations against the rise in fuel prices that erupted in Paris a few years ago. And more angry coverage from Fox News.

Which brings me to my third point: cultural issues and affiliations are important. Covid-19 has shown us that you cannot beat a pandemic with medical and computer science alone. You also need to change your behavior. The same goes for green policies. People who fear wind turbines will destroy their livelihoods – or who define their political identity by watching Fox – will not listen to scientists’ lectures. Behavior will only change if “green” issues are presented to different communities with empathy and respect – and the right incentives.

This will not be easy. Last week, the UK government’s Behavioral Insights Team released a research paper urging ministers to use social science knowledge to ‘push’ people to be green. However, it was removed from the government website a few hours later.

Yet even though the rift between Fox News and the COP26 crowd seems hopelessly wide, neither can afford to simply dismiss or ridicule the other. Think about it when you see brilliant photos of wind turbines in Glasgow; Carlson’s resistance is not entirely hot air.

Follow Gillian on Twitter @gilliantett and send him an email at [email protected]

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